Types of Morris dance form and their origins

Foreman: Stick Dances - These would seem to derive in part from the Moros y Cristianos dances which involve two lines of men who engage in mock combat and clash sticks as part of the performance. The earliest reference to this pageant which is very big in Spain is 1268. It basically celebrates the Reconquest of Spain from the Moors. (not completed till 15 C.) The basic pattern of two lines of men engaged in a mock combat using sticks / swords. It is preserved in the Christianos v Moros spectacles staged in several cities in Spain and also in locations further afield where the Spanish have influenced local culture, most notably in Mexico and also on the Greek Island of Korcula (check). The festival also features a combat, fireworks, appearance of St George, a seige of a castle, smoking of cigars by participants and lots of colourful costumes.

You can eat Moros y Cristianos as well because that is the nick name for a dish consisting of rice and black beans.

The earliest description of how to perform a sword / stick combat dance is included in Thinout Arbeau' "Orcheosography".

The dance described is for four men and it looks rather like those ones which the Plymouth Morris do using cutlasses.

Although the Dartington men do perform stick dances at least half their repertoire is of handkerchief dances.

The handkerchief dances possibly derive from the fashion for long sleeves at the court of Richard the Second. There are a few references to more modern Morris men (i.e. only a hundred years or so ago) who habitually tied their handkerchiefs to the end of their sleeves whilst dancing to prevent the handkerchief being dropped.

Handkerchiefs were actually invented in the time of Richard II. Previously people used to use their sleeves to wipe their snotty noses, so the handkerchief, a sort of "detachable sleeve" was a great advance in hygiene and cleanliness.

The fact that Richard was a bit of a nancy boy is well known to anyone who has been to see Shakespeare's play on the subject. (The play is called Richard II which I think is a jolly good title) Richard's endorsement of this new development at court had the unfortunate effect of further marking him out as a poofter, presumably because real men snorted their snot out by enclosing one nostril subsequently making great play of wiping their noses on a sleeve with a sweeping arm gesture which proclaimed them every inch a man.

The Dartington men have adopted both Richard II's badge of the White Hart and his innovation, the handkerchief, which of course adds emphasis to the dancers hand movements.

Most of the earliest records of Morris as a dance indicate a ring of six dancers who use grotesque gestures to impress a female positioned in the centre of the ring. They are accompanied by a pipe and tabour player and additional characters of a fool and hobby horse.

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You can see the Dartington men doing a dance of this type which is called "Brighton Camp" or "The Girl I Left Behind Me". The form of the Dartington version of this dance was actually put together to honour the bride of the webmaster of this site when he got married to a lovely girl at Christmas 2000.

The basic step of the Morris has possibly always been the single step which you can see used by the Christianos y Moros dancers. The more involved steps you will see employed by dancers who follow the Cotswold traditions are derived from the 16th Century 6/8 time Galliard.

The Galliard is a column dance originally performed in the gallery of a great house. Great houses used to have galleries, a sort of corridor linking apartments or bedrooms on an upper story. These corridors would be hung with pictures (hence the term "Picture Gallery") and they provided an area for exercise in inclement weather or an area for dancing in the evenings.

The Galliard is basically a couple dance into which the male dancer would insert evolutions designed to impress his partner with his skill, grace and prowess. The basic step of the Galliard, which always uses 6/8 time is the double step used in so many Morris traditions. Turns are effected using a "galley" or "gallery" a movement involving raising one leg at an angle. According to one disparaging female follower of the Morris of my acquaintance, this move makes the dancer resemble "a dog cocking his leg to piddle on a lamp post".

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